If the season ended with this weekend's slate of games, Nashville SC would be in the playoffs. Saturday night's 4-2 win over Atlanta United was perhaps their best MLS win to date and it helped propelled them past their rivals and into the 9th spot in the expanded 10-team Eastern Conference field.
Head coach Gary Smith certainly liked what he saw from his team.
"I felt that our guys showed a tremendous amount of passion and pride tonight," he proclaimed. "We have achieved something we haven't all season, and that's getting ourselves on the scoresheet on multiple occasions. And I felt there was some displays tonight that really offered a different dimension, not just to individuals, but for the group. And, you know, all in all, it was a fantastic result."
The run to the playoffs doesn't get any easier for Nashville. In Week 12 they'll travel to Columbus to face a conference-leading Crew SC team that looks to be an MLS Cup favorite. Smith acknowledges it will be a test, but also hints that the Atlanta result shows his squad is more ready for it than some might expect.
"My expectation is that the game in Columbus is going to be the toughest that we've run into," Smith noted. "And it'll be another test for this young group. We're still developing. We're moving in the right direction at this point in time."
He added, "The one thing that Columbus knows is that we'll go there with a very competitive attitude. We've proved now that we are capable with multiple goals in a game. And, you know, maybe that will just give them food for thought as they prepare."
Highlights: Nashville 4, Atlanta 2
The 4-2 win over Atlanta was Nashville's fourth straight positive result, a streak which began with a 1-0 win over Inter Miami on August 30. Since returning to play in mid-August after missing out on the MLS is Back Tournament, they've won three and drawn three, with just two losses in the mix. Smith noted how Saturday's win "really caps off what has been a very good run for us."
"We've shown that we're capable without the ball," Smith observed. "There's a resilience, in a core element to this group. It doesn't give up and shows such a tremendous attitude. But, of course, again, the one thing we've lacked is that cutting edge in the final third. For the guys to have a breakout evening ... of course I'm delighted to see that score."
Dax McCarty was a big part of that, with a goal and three assists on the night. McCarty joked after the game, "The fact that I was involved in four goals tonight is something that I do not believe is sustainable." He went on to add, though, that having three attacking players — Dominique Badji, Hany Mukhtar and Abu Danladi — each score a first goal for Nashville was vital in the team's progress.
"When our attacking players score goals, when they get confidence, our team is going to become really dangerous, The more important thing tonight was that those three guys had great performances, and got on the scoresheet. And now, I think you're just going to see them continue to take off and give our team an attacking platform, to where we're going to be really dangerous."
Whatever may come for Nashville this season, Smith feels good that his team's beaten a rival on the third try — one that McCarty characterized as a "must-win" match for the team.
"Sometimes you feel an energy and a spirit within a group pregame," Smith reflected. "We've had a week leading into this, to think about what it means, how we're going to conduct ourselves, and what it's going to take to beat what is a very good team. That's not easy."